Where is Guru Rinpoche’s Bhutan?
Part 1 of 2: Condensed from Dasho Karma Ura’s forthcoming booklet
Singye Dzong PERSPECTIVES 19 June, 2010 - Many Sources on Guru’s Life
21st June marks the birth anniversary of Guru, the son of King Indrabhuti in some accounts, or the lad of lotus blossom in most accounts , born in Udiyana in a place that we cannot identify exactly now.
His emergence out of a lotus flower may escape the understanding of history and science, or even anthropology. But to deny multiple meanings and realities is uni-dimensionally narrow. The awesome life, travels, works and ideas of Guru are subject of numerous terma biographies, revealed by Nyangrel Nima Yoser (1124-1192), Guru Choewang (1212-1270), Ugyen Lingpa (b.1323), and Pemalingpa (1450-1526). There is one written by Jonang Taranatha (1575-1634) from Indian sources. Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899), who came from a Bon family, added a Bon version of Guru’s biography (Ngawang Zangpo 2002). The terma biographies are rich literature written in allusive, metaphorical language. Among them, Ugyen Lingpa’s Padma Kathang is crowning jewel of many colours: lyrical, stirring, vast, shocking, raw, baffling, mysterious, tense and inhumanly brilliant.
Other books yield direct, additional information about Guru’s life. Guru’s relationship with Bhutan (Monyul) is clearer from biographies of other individuals. The Hagiography of Sindharaza and Clear Mirror of Prediction’ by terton Ugyen, who was an emanation of Denma Tsemang, is a key text. A version of this story was documented first by a certain Tibetan terton Molmokhyil (1087-1146), and incorporated into Jamgon Kongtrul’s (1813-1899) Rinchenterdzod in 1880 (Aris 1979: 50-82). The terma biography of Guru by Pemalingpa (1450-1526); the biography of Yeshey Tshogyal, originally written by Gyalwa Jangchub and Namkhai Nyingpo but revealed as terma by Taksam; the fragments of biography and works of Terton Sherab Member (contemporary of Ugyen Lingpa and Longchen’s root lama Rinzin Kumara raza, hence much before Pema Lingpa); the biography of Ratna Lingpa (1403-1478), the author who redacted Nyingma Gyudbum (100,000 tantras of Nyingma) are useful sources.
Vajrayana Vision of Human Potentials
Guru is still active, through his promised appearances in the pure vision of adherents, particularly on his birthdays. As a dharmakaya figure (chos sku), Guru exists in the fourth or primal time that is not past, present or future. Through his real activities in the 8th century and emanations’ deeds, he animated consciousness of accomplished practitioners and nourished a particular kind of civilization in this country known as Monyul in his time. The complex concept of chos sku represents both a potential for human existence (Samuel G. 1993: 19) and a social, economic and cultural pattern that favour the realization of the Vajrayana view of human potentials. There are now other competing views of human existence and potentials which drive the activities of the people and the State. But the Vajrayana view of human potentials was what Guru brought to us in the 8th century, along with an approach to structuring the mind towards non-duality and the cultivation of a different kind of consciousness.
Guru came at a moment in history, the 8th century, when tantric practices dominated Buddhism in India. The word, Vajrayana, itself had appeared in the tantric texts only in the late seventh century, although tantric texts appeared first in the 3rd century (Williams P. 2000: 194-199). Guru’s coming Bhutan and Tibet was of gigantic socio-economic and political consequences, beyond his introduction of sutra and mantra. Tantra-based Buddhism he brought oriented people towards an alternative state of consciousness about a more humane relationship among people and between people and the natural order. This alternative consciousness emerged from shamanic process that led practitioners into visionary states or revelation (see Samuel 1993: 363-377 for an extensive discussion on shamanic process). Samuel contrasted shamanic process with rationalized process. The word shamanic, being associated with pawo and nenjom, is likely to be misunderstood in Bhutan without a couple of examples. Key Buddhist practices can be seen as shamanic. Insight meditation is a shamanic method to enter into a visionary state. Buddha’s overcoming of Mara’s attack was a shamanic control that Guru repeated with his symbolic control over spirits over and over again. A wandering ascetic like Thangtong Gyelpo (1385–1464?) or Drukpa Kunlay (1455-1529) was an enlightened shaman drawing authority and inspiration from beyond the organized, monastic structures.
Against this broader background, Vajrayana variety Guru brought can be seen as particularly more yogic, shamanic, tantric, de-centered and social centric.
As we will come across later, all of Guru’s great heirs, such as Dorji Lingpa, Thangtong Gyelpo, Guru Choewing, Ratna Lingpa, Sherab Member, Pema Lingpa, Drukpa Kunley, Dudjom Rinpoche who operated in Bhutan were part of this visionary tradition. Others like Phajo Drukgom and Zhabdrung Rinpoche were more clerical and institutional. Guru’s introduction of Vajrayana resulted in dominant national characteristics of which a few can be discussed briefly here.
Inner and Outer Healing
The first effect we still enjoy is that our land became broadly pacified and peaceful under the influence of Vajrayana. It is important to appreciate the cause of peace, just as the state of peace itself. Because of the spread of Buddhism by Guru and his disciples and their disciples during both the first and second transmissions (bstan pa snga ‘gyur dang phyi ‘gyur), a particular world view took hold and that influenced polity and culture. The stress on cultivation of peace within people led broadly to peace in communities.
To the North, Guru’s conversion of Tibet to Vajrayana pacified Tibet’s imperial ambitions so that it became a non-threatening empire, as its polity changed (Ngawang Zangpo 2002: 87-88). Tibetan legislation since Trisong’s reign harmonized relatively more with Buddhist moral principles, with certain exceptions (see Kapstein 2000: 57).
Guru brought peace to Bhutan in an overt way by stopping the war between King Sindharaza of Mon Bumthang and King Nauche of India. But external peace cannot be sustained without peace at heart.
For inner development and peace, the peace conference between the two was concluded by giving empowerment of Druba Kagyed or the Eight Great Herukas (sgrub pa bka brgyad), making the two kings become friends. Guru also gave heart-essence (snying gyi thigs pa) teachings of ‘dzogpa chenpo selwai melong’ to a 500 strong entourage of Sindharaza and Kyikha Rathoed in Kurjay, leading them to the fruits of enlightenment on the spot. It was a devotional scene reminiscent of events down the centuries where lamas gave teachings to lay people and nobles in the wide meadows of Kurjay. Thus Dzogchen teachings started early in Bhutan by this account.
The second effect of Guru’s visit to the Himalayas was the spread of enlightenment education through translations of Indian texts into classical Tibetan which are read increasing widely today among scholars. Guru was a colossal engine of translation and transmission of works from Indian civilization to the Himalayas. Two chapters (87 and 88) in Padma Kathang enumerates the translation Guru carried out with 108 Tibetan translators and 21 Indian pandits (KMT edition of mkha’ ‘dro Yeshey Tshogyal gyi rnam mthar 2005: 151. Hence abbreviated to KMT) at Samye under Trisong’s magnificent patronage. Among the sutras, almost all the classic authors studied today like Vasubandhu, Nagarjuna, Santarakshita, Kamalasila, Asvagosha, Chandrakirti, Dinaga, Asanga, Shantideva, Dharmakirti, and Arya Deva were translated at that time in Samye. The list of tantras translated is far longer. Without the availability of these translated texts, Buddhism would not have cascaded down the slopes of Himalayas and spread over the wide plateau of Tibet. Nor would 73 million-words long Kanjur and Tenjur get compiled gradually over the centuries without the high, initial burst of translation (Tharthang Trulku in Introduction to Toussaint 1978). Through the transmission of learning based on these classic texts, the same ideas about cosmology and causation framed the views of most Bhutanese, until Western schooling started in the 1960s. Though people do not believe in world geography according to Abhidharma, a lack of reasoning among a growing section of the Bhutanese in the necessary connection between samsara and karma is surely a profound shift occurring today (see Khewang Tshultrim Lodrey, 2003 for a lucid defense of such classic reasoning). From our cultural point of view, it is even more radical that big private and public organizations do not take account of this ethical reasoning in their operations. Ministries and corporations hedging under corporate social responsibility may fall far short of this fuller ethical reasoning.
The third result of Guru’s visit is the notion of living in the midst of sacral sites associated with Guru such as Kurjay, Singye Dzong, Gomokora and Taktshang. Guru visited numerous parts of Bhutan for teaching and practice. They are our holy lands. Take Singye Dzong’s direct association with Guru. Nyangrel’s Phurba Yangsang Lamed (p. 2) names five key disciples of Guru, namely, Namkhai Nyingpo, Gyalwa Chogyang, Nanam Dorji Dudjom, Ladrong Konchog Jungney, Shelkar Za, and Yeshey Tshogyal as having received Vajrakila teachings at Singye dzong from Guru. There is a big flat boulder in Singye dzong claimed to have been the place, according to oral tradition, where Guru and his disciples sat in discourse. Yeshey Tshogyal was in Singye Dzong, arriving first with her two companions. One of the companions was her ritual partner, an Indian youth (Acharya) from Nepal who had a Yemenis sounding name called Saleh (KMT: 7). As foretold by Guru, she had fetched him earlier at great price from Nepal. Guru gave thirteen teachings on Vajrakila at Singye Dzong to Yeshey Tshogyal (bdag mkha’ chen bzas/ rdo rje phur pai skor la yang zab snying poi chos skor cu gsum zhus). From Singye Dzong, Yeshey Tshogyal and her fellow practitioners went to live at least seven months in Paro Taktsang to meditate on Guru Amitayus. Guru stayed for three months in Singye dzong, four months in Taktsang and two months in Chumophug and for more than year in other places including Cheldrag in Paro (see Pema Lingpa’s Chos ‘gyung Mun sel sDron me smad chag: 277). Padma Kathang notes that Guru spent, among other places in Monyul, three months in Mon Gom, or Gomokora. In Mo rgyud kuntu bzang mo klong gsel’ bar ba Nyima’ gsang rgyud, Terton Sherab Membar reveals that this female tantra text was recorded by Yeshey Tshogyal during its teaching by Guru at Taktshang. The omnisient Jigme Lingpa (1729–1798), who hardly missed anything printed, also noted that Guru stayed for three months in Singye Dzong and four months in Paro Taktsang (see Jigme Lingpa’s gTam tshog: 608).
These holy places of Guru have triggered that part of us as pilgrims, in search of our own divine nature that is increasingly obscured. Travels in the footsteps of Guru are a way of re-igniting his teachings and practices among us on the pilgrimage process. Yet commodification of these spiritual arenas will hollow them, instead of hallowing them. The outbreak of tourists to fulfill their momentary curiousity about these places, as opposed to pilgrims on the path of spiritual renewal, presents new problems. If the key sacral places become spectacles of tourism, they lose their attributes as isolated mountains sites for contemplation (dba’n pai ri khrod) (See Kumar Satish, 2009 for differences between pilgrims and tourists).
Rocks Archives of Ter
Most of these sacral places are also venues where Guru and his root-disciples deposited texts and other relics as ter. Some of the ters were concealed by Guru but a vast number of teachings by Guru were recorded textually by Yeshey Tshogyal in dakini and other scripts and hidden as ter. Taktshang, Kurjay, and Singyedzong are hallowed not only because Guru practiced and taught in these places. They became charged with ters that were retrieved later by pre-ordained masters to reinvigorate teachings. From Taktshang, Thangtong Gyalpo retrieved 1 scroll of yellow paper (see his biography: 202); Dorji Lingpa (1346-1405) retrieved a zab ter Sethurma(see his biography: 56, see Karmay Samten); and Dudjom Jigrel Yeshey Dorji (1904-1987) revealed Phurpa Pudri Regphung (Samuel G 2008). Sherab Member retrieved a list of ter he was to extract from a cave called Zangphug behind Singye Dzong. Ratna Lingpa also visited Singye Dzong and revealed a text titled ‘glong gsal snying tig’. In his biography (bka’ ‘bum: 70), Ratna Lingpa gives a description of Singye Dzongsum in terms of Pawo Padma dzong on the right, Khando Rinchen dzong on the left, Drakar Singye Dzong at the centre and Nering meadows in the front. Ratna Lingpa reveals zab ter dam chos klong gsal nying tig while he was at Singye Dzong ((bka’ ‘bum), The latest terma text was the corpus of ‘chimed srog thig, revealed by Terton Zilnon Namkha Dorji in 1908 (Dudjom 1999, Vol 14; Cantwell Cathy et al 2009). Other places where Guru’s ters were found repeatedly by successive tertons were concentrated in Bumthang: at Rimochen, Nering Drag, Jamba Lhakhang, and Tselung Lhakhang.
Many extraordinary individuals have been thrown into a visionary state when they were at Taktshang. They included Chogyam Trungpa (1940-1987) and Dilgo Khyentse (1910-1991) both of whom composed at Taktshang in a visionary state. Most recently, on 21 February 2010, His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, had a solitary day of prayer in the cave of Taktshang, during which he had a sublime experience and a powerful impulse to write a supplication text to Guru (HM Khesar 2010).
Ideals of Relationship
The effects that we just discussed are familiar. But the others are far more subtle. Space hardly allows us to go over them, but let us take one example for the fourth effect. Vajrayana notion of ideal of relationship, in which damtshig or lifelong faith in a guru is a key value, has shaped wider relationships, beyond itself. Relationships such as the ones between parents and children, and lords and subjects were often homologized with that of a lama and disciple. As the archetypal lama, Guru was both the personally experienced, transmitter of fast-track Vajrayana enlightenment techniques and the lightning rod for the beneficence of yidams (deities of sadhanas). In most visualization schemes, Guru is envisaged as both a lama and a tantric deity. Take one element of a complex visualization scheme. A mental image of Guru merges into the disciple in incredibly radiant colours, light, details, and vivacity. The disciple holds on the generated images for a long time (for broader discussion, see Harrington A. et al 2006: 96). By transforming the disciple’s consciousness, and arousing Boddhicitta, the meditator becomes mentally the meditated, Guru. (Samuel G. 1993: 250-257). This transforms the afflictive mental states (nyon mongs) into five forms of transcending awareness (yeshey nga), triggering off Buddhahood present in an accomplished meditator. However, the other kinds of binary relationships like ordinary school teacher and student, and employees and employers are qualitatively different because they are not oriented toward enlightenment. Yet the lofty ideal of guru-disciple relationship has inspired the best of human relationships.
Consciousness and Its Pathologies
The most important effect stemming from Guru’s teachings has been on the reduction of all too human pathologies and compulsiveness towards the self. The philosophy of freedom from self-afflictions is a general Buddhist theme, but Vajrayana expanded the path and perspective. In brief, the Vajrayana path to freedom from self-afflictions consists eventually of being just aware of pure awareness that has no content in terms of sensory inputs from memory, external perceptions, concepts, or thought about past or future. But such an achievement does not come easily, unless one learns through hard practice to hold visualized imageries, whether dynamic or still, in a stable and vivid way for a long time with appropriate changes in mental faculty. Imagery training is ultimately intended to promote emotional balance as well as cognitive balance (Harrington A. et al 2006: 100-114, 135-137). But the use of the mind in visualization and meditation is not the only method as it is in the sutra system. In Vajrayana, the mind as well as the subtle body energy system - the basis of mind - is mobilized (Dalai Lama 2005: 165-183). The subtle body energy system, known as rtsa-klung-thigle, involving neural, circulatory, respiratory and libido channels are activated and ‘awakened’ to improve physiological and psychological functions. Some sadhanas Guru’s devised, such as the longevity practice focused on Amitayus, entail nutritional changes called consumption of essences (blends) made from rocks (minerals) and herbs (Terton Zilnon Namkha Dorji, see Dudjom Vol. 14 1999: 449-450).
Vajrayana method of meditation and visualization is seen as an advancement because it can combine generation of skillful means with wisdom and compassion (thabs dang shesrab), corresponding with simultaneous experience of bliss and voidness (bde stong gzung mjugs). Buddhist understanding states that in the shortest possible split second, mental activity can only have one way of apprehending (hear Alexander Berzin on Berzinarchive.com). It also says that in the shortest possible split second, we can either have a visual phenomena or a mental phenomena (concepts, emotions), but not both (Harrington A. et al 2008: 42). The implication is that even if we try to foster single-pointed concentration, our concentration will alternate between compassion at one moment and voidness in the next moment, without being able to subjectively experience it simultaneously. Vajrayana applies this understanding of mental constraint to improvise further techniques. Let me jump over the many stages, simplify and compress the visualization process to bring out the main technical improvement, as I understand it. The generation of the appearance of a deity like Amitayus in the mind of meditator during Amitayus practice is considered symbolic of voidness. Of course, creating clear imageries bathed in radiant colours and light is much more taxing than perceiving them from external objects. But it is now known from scientific experiment that being able to do so activates the same areas in the brain which are usually engaged during visual perception of external objects. The strength of the activation depends on the capacity of the meditator to create more vivid and stable imageries. If the images are dynamic, harder still is the mental exertion to create them. As the meditator merges himself mentally into the meditated deity, and the meditator imagines himself as Guru Amitayus. With the meditator becoming more able, the meta-awareness, the awareness that he is just trying to imagine he is Amitayus while he is not, should decrease and disappear. At a successful stage of meditation and visualisation, it is the Buddha figure performing mental rotations of various multi-coloured mantra letters and holding in view other subsidiary Buddha figures. The implication is that the body image of the meditator has transformed “into the healthy, vital and enlightened being of the central deity” (Samuel G. 2008, 2009). In this context, Amitayus is the exemplar of compassion. Enlightenment is defined by compassion. At the level of subjective reality, this meditation and visualization thus brings compassion and voidness together within every shortest possible split-second. That means that consciousness, which is subjective, is transformed for that moment. More moments of such kind can create notions of continuum.
Finally, the object of meditation, the meditation and the meditator are all made to dissolve first into a seed syllable letter, and in turn the seed syllable letter into dark space. As images come from within voidness at the beginning of a visualization session, they return to voidness at the end. The idea is to see the phenomenal world (consciousness) just as an appearance. The process combines understanding of voidness with the generation of compassion. But it is well said that it can be experienced, not explained because bde stong gzung mjugs is considered ineffable part of Vajrayana.
Exploring the relationship between the observed external objects, the perception of the objects, and the images felt by the observer is perhaps the most crucial part of neuro-science studies. None of the parts in the process can be independent of consciousness, because that is where reality is apprehended. Was enlightenment education started by Guru primarily about restructuring consciousness? Was Guru trying to teach neuro-science to the 8th century Bhutanese in a different module and language? Are the 21st century Bhutanese any better students, 1200 years after Guru’s visit? I will take up these and other questions in my next article.
Where is Guru Rinpoche’s Bhutan?
Part 2 of 4 Condensed from Dasho Karma Ura’s forthcoming booklet
PERSPECTIVES 27 June, 2010 - Mon Kings and Mon Consort
V ery little about economic and social conditions in Bhutan are recorded in the Hagiography of Sindharaza or old terma writings. There are, however, nuggets of other information. Gold dust was the high currency. Sindharaza sent escorts with pouches of gold dust to fetch Guru from India. Silk seems to have reached the court of Sindharaza.
Guru sat on a three-tiered silken (za ‘og) mattress and was served grain-drink (‘bras chang) as well as drink made out of date fruit (rgun ‘brum) in a golden cup in Bumthang. Yeshey Tshogyal was served honey and buffalo milk by Tashi Chidron in Singye Dzong during a brief break from her partial fasting and solitary meditation in the cave.
At the time of Guru’s visit, patchy information tells us that Bhutan had two kings: Sindharaza of Mon Bumthang, who worshipped Shiva until Guru converted him; and Mon King Hamray (Ham Ras) in the East, perhaps ruling some areas of Kurtoe often referred as Kurulung or Kurilung in old texts. King Hamray was the father of Khidren (khyi ‘dren), who was renamed by Jomo (lady) Yeshey Tshogyal as Tashi Chidron (Krashi sPyi sdron). I mention these facts categorically to correct the rampant errors about her origin and name repeated from secondary sources in almost all books. The Bhutanese born Tashi Chidron should have been a subject of debri portraiture and statue. She became a highly realized person. At one stage in her life, she enterred into an eleven year retreat with Yeshey Tshogyal at Shang Zabu. Tashi Chidren was present at the time of Yeshey Tshogyal’s passing away through ‘ja’ lus at Pama Gangphug. At 16, some three years after Yeshey Tshogyal first met her at Singye Dzong, Tashi Chidron played the role of supporting consort (gzungs ma) in the cycle of Vajrakila with Guru in Onphu Taktshang (See mKha’ ‘dro Yeshey Tsho rgyal gyi rNamthar KMT 2005: 120-122, hence abbreviated to KMT 2005). Guru selected her for this role because of her wisdom dakini attributes. Guru foretold that the diffusion of Vajrakila depended on her. She was regarded as one of the five emanations of Dorji Phagmo (Thunderbolt Sow). Besides Hamray and Sindharaza, there was an exiled Tibetan prince, Khikha Rathoed, living in Khenpajong, who had moved from place to place and was finally resettled by Guru in Choskhor Jalikhar.
Buddhist temples such as Tselung, Jambay and Genyen Lhakhangs and a fantastic palace of Sindharaza could be seen in Choskhor at the time of Guru’s travels. An oral tradition of the Monpas of Tongsa maintain that Guru came up from India through Nabji, Kubrag, Phrumzur and Jangbi and reached Bumthang via Ngangdagla. Their King Marapai (the one with long beard in Monpakha) played host to Guru. His modest palace foundation can be seen today at Kubrag on the Nabji Korphu tourist trial.
When Guru enterred Monyul, perhaps for the third recorded time, later through Singye Dzong (often known as Monkha Nerengphug in old texts), he came from Mangyul Gunthang and Lhodrag Karchu. Kyikha Rathoed invited Guru to Khenpajong. Although Bhutan figured strongly in the map of the tertons and other religious figures, not being explorers, they hardly mentioned routes in their writings. A few do vaguely. Terton Sherab Member, who lived before Pemalingpa; Pemalingpa; and Trulku Chogden Gonpo, a younger contemporary and disciple of Pemalingpa, visited Khenpajong (see Choden Gonpo’s and Sherab Member’s autobiographies). Sherab Member and Chogden Gonpo, the emanation of Terton Dorji Lingpa (1346-1405), who was in turn the emanation of Bairotsana (750-835) (see Jamgon Kongtrul’s autobiography) mentioned that they went to Khenpajong via Khoma Pangkhar village crossing Zela. In all likelihood, Guru travelled from Lhodrag to Khenpajong along the route connecting Lhodrag, Boedla, Gangla, Singye Dzong, Denchung, Khomakang, Khoma Pangkhar and Khenpajong.
Round Sitting Peace Conference
During another of Guru’s visits, most likely the second one, the purpose was to restore peace between the warring kings, Sindharaza of Bumthang and Nauche of India. Both were summoned by Guru at the border of India and Mon as Bhutan was known then (rja mon gyi mtshams su ‘bod par byao).
Sindharaza and his 50 ministers, and Indian king Nauche with his entourage of 80 met at the wide treeless plain that was named Nathang (Oath Ground) after they pledged not to fight anymore. The two embattled kings and Guru erected the Immortal Stone Pillar of Peace (‘chi med zhi wai rdoring btsugs), placed their hands on it, and swore that their forces will not cross over this point. Future archeological investigations into the intact stone pillar will settle the question of when Guru visited Bhutan precisely. Due to lack of official attention, the temple of Nabji which contains the Immortal Stone Pillar of Peace, is not widely known. This hardly noticed site is of monumental importance to Bhutan.
The successful ‘roundtable’ peace conference (dbyen zlum zhing ‘cham par bya ste) was concluded by Guru giving empowerment of Druba Kagyed or the Eight Great Herukas (sgrub pa bka brgyad), and making the two kings become friends in this life, and enabling them to meet in heavens in the afterlife. Druba Kagyed consists of gshin rje gshed, rta mgrin, yang dag, che mchog, phur pa, ma mo rbod gtong, dmod pa drag sngags, and ‘jig rten mchod bstod. Empowerment of the Druba Kagyed would mean the initiation of those present at Nathang into the practice of these eight deities. The teachings of Druba Kagyed is considered to be one of the main teachings of Guru and the texts on Druba Kagyed (titled bKa brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i chos skor) were discovered later as terma by Nyangrel.
Pioneering Longevity Extension Technique
Guru also first came to Bumthang to heal King Sindharaza whose his bLa and life force (bla srog) had been robbed by the spirit, Sogdag Shelging Karpo. bLa and srog has no appropriate words in English (see Cornu P.1997: 85-87). The bla of an individual, which cannot reincarnate, resides normally in the person but it can wander off and live in other parts of our physical environment. Srog (life force or biologically heart condition) is located in the heart and lasts as long as life does. The idea that bla is separable from the body by means of theft by evil forces is considered a pre-Buddhist idea. Guru returned the lost bla and life force to Sindharaza, healing him. The spirits who attacked Sindharaza were turned into positive agents. The widespread narrative of conversion of various kinds of spirits from harmful to helpful dispositions demonstrates the classic role of Guru as the moral and psychological teacher. It is also symbolic of the view that there is no absolute evil. However, to me, local deities of mountains, forests and rivers are personification of these complex ecologies, having spirits and life of their own. It has a parallel, in my opinion, to Giai hypothesis (Lovelock J. 1979), though at a micro level. What I conclude from terma text of ‘chimed srog thig is the important view that causation of illnesses can lie in wider environment. For people to have a fuller wellbeing involves the concepts of bla, life force (vitality), lus (energy level of the body), wangthang (dbang thang), which is capability and empowerment to achieve goals.
At the recovery celebration, Guru gave the entourage empowerment of Chana Dorji (Vajrapani). The whole episode about healing is very short: the Hagiography assumes a greater understanding about healing rituals by Guru on the part of readers. For readers unfamiliar with corpus of life extension technique, the act of restoring life force must seem mystical and irrelevant to health practices. Blaming displeased deities, malevolent spirits for illness is part of a personalist medical system, while the naturalist system traces the cause of illness to virus, weather, pollution etc (Samuel G. 2009: 7-10). If the spirit approach works, it is assumed to work on the psychological level rather than organic level. However, spirit approach also works on the body level because psychological changes affect physiological processes. The question is how the mysterious placebo effect arises. The issue is relevant in Bhutan where the performance of healing and protective rituals to block the threat of illnesses caused by spirits and other malicious causes are widespread. It is also important to demystify how Guru healed Sindharaza from a spirit attack.
Let me briefly weave the role of longevity ritual into the narrative of restoring the health of Sindharaza. The longevity ritual is known as tshe drup (or bla ma tshe dpag med kyi sdrup pa in full). The question ultimately is about validity and efficacy of tshe drup or tshewang because restoring bla and life force is part of it. The longevity rite originated with Guru and Madarava who practiced it in the Maratika cave, and was practiced later by disciples of Guru. Singye Dzong and Takstshang were important sites where Yeshey Tshogyal and other disciples practiced and witnessed the mandala of Guru Amitayus Yab-Yum. The central diety for visualization was Guru Amitayus, also known as Guru Pema Thodthrengtsal, and his consort (blama tshe dpag med yab yum). The origin and transmission of the tersar text of longevity practice ‘chimed rsog thig’ (Immortal Life’s Creative Seed) is a subject of illuminating joint article by Cathy Cantwell and Robert Mayer (Cantwell G and Mayer Robert, 2009). The terma hidden by Yeshey Tshogyal was revealed in 1908 at the cave of Singye Dzong by Zilnon Namkhai Dorji (1874-), the root lama of the late Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-87) and Karmapa Khachap Dorji. The deduction of terma text of ‘chimed srog thig from dakini script was carried out most likely when Zilnon lived in Bumthang with the patronage of King Ugyen Wangchuck, because its colophon mentions the palace and king of Lhomon. The terma titled ‘chimed rsog thig corpus was incorporated by Dudjom Rinpoche in his gsung ‘bum dam chos rin chen nor bu’i mzodm, Vol pha :193-554. ‘Chimed rsog thig corpus suggests that longevity is affected not only by theft and attack on life force by various powerful spirits such as driza, shinje, luwang, nodjin, firegod, cannibal, wind god, and four kinds of demons. There are other credible factors: (1) the decline of life force and breath, (2) the loss of body and mood, (3) the interruption in the subtle neurological, respiratory and libido processes (rtsa-rlung-thigle) (Dudjom 1999: pp. 110-122). Accordingly, a comphrehensive method of recovering longevity encompasses five elements: (1) ritual seeking jinlab from the assembly of Amitayus Buddhas and protector deities: (2) burnt offerings to the fire gods of wisdom (yeshey kyi me lha); (3) casting away of effigies of scapegoat as substitutes for meat, blood and life force to repurchase bla and life force (sha rin khrag tsab srog gi glud, see Dudjom 1999: 354); (4) consumption of herbal pharma products and other essences such as that of minerals (Dudjom 1999: 449-450); (5) the ultra secret practice of union following sbyor dnyos rje gsum (Dudjom 1999: 492-506); (6) longevity blessing (tse dbang), and (7) psycho-physical yogic exercise to work on subtle parts of neurological, respiratory and libido systems; and, more importantly, (8) visualisation and meditation that activates perceptional mechanism in a different way and reorients consciousness (see Part 1 of this article). In the case of longevity blessings with longevity nectar (‘chimed rdud tsi), longevity arrow-silk (tse dhar) and longevity pill (tse ril), the recipient visualizes Amitayus blessing the recipient with healing power and energy through the performing lama. One of the key assumptions behind the longevity practice is the body as an open system influenced by the environment (psychological, sociological, nutritional, spiritual etc.) in the widest sense of the term. If the body is an open system, then a mix of naturalist and personalist approaches to health is more comprehensive.
This broader context was drawn to provide an understanding that Guru’s healing of Sindharaza by returning his life force stems from a more complex longevity technique Guru developed. This explanation is also applicable to the content of longevity practice of Guru Amitayus that Yeshey Tshogyal took at Paro Taktshang that I will elaborate later.
Where is Guru Rinpoche’s Bhutan?
Part 3: Condensed from Dasho Karma Ura’s forthcoming booklet
PERSPECTIVES 10 July, 2010 - Liberation Partners of Yeshey Tshogyal: Archarya Saleh and Pelgyi Singye
Relatively less famous places such as Kurtoe Khoma Sawa Dhadrug cave, Minjay Choor Tshal Lhakhang, and Khenpalung are associated with Jomo Yeshey Tshogyal. An understanding of the wondrous and gritful life of Kharchen Za, Jomo Yeshey Tshogyal is as important as understanding the life of Guru himself for Bhutan. But, here, I have to confine myself to the wider reasons for her visits to Bhutan propelled by Guru.
During Yeshey Tshogyal’s meditation in Tildro, Guru explained about the indispensability of ritual partner (thabs kyi grogs dpa’o), as a means to realization, in the practice of Secret Mantrayana (KMT 2005; 87). Guru asked Tshogyal to fetch 17 year old Archarya Saleh from Nepal. I mention Archarya Saleh here because he had a role in Tshogyal’s liberation, and much of Tshogyal’s meditation took place in Bhutan with him. To avoid confusion, it should be noted that Archarya Saleh is not the same as Saleh the Mon boy who we will come across later. Both of them and Monmo Tashi Chidren were present with Tshogyal at Singye Dzong and Paro Taktshang. The whole incidence of finding Archarya Saleh and bringing him to Tibet is described in great detail (KMT 2005; 56-74). She bought Archarya Saleh with great difficulty for 1000 sang (measure of weight) of gold. He had come to Nepal from Serling in India. As Guru admonished Tshogyal that she should never part from Archarya Saleh (KMT 2005; 72), he was with her till the end of her life in Pama Gang Phug. He was not the only ritual partner for Yeshey Tshogyal. At another occasion later, Guru identified and initiated Lhalung Pelgyi Singye as Tshogyal’s practice partner necessary for both Vajrakila and Amitayus intiations (KMT 2005; 120-122).
To find and bring Archarya Saleh to Tibet was Tshogyal’s first journey to Nepal. Her second trip to Nepal was to bring the 14-year old daughter of Bhadena and Nagini, known as Kalasiddhi, to become another zungma of Guru during his practice at Mangyul. Yeshey Tshogyal’s third trip to Nepal was to Tsha Shodrong to bid final good bye to Guru.
Yeshey Tshogyal and Archarya Saleh took retreat in a secret cave in Lhodrag for seven months soon after they came from Nepal. Guru joined them towards the end of their meditation at Lhodrag. From there, Guru and the two of them came to Phugmochey cave, which probably is the Phugmochey above Rolmoteng valley next to Singye Dzong. While in Phugmochey, Trisong invited Guru and Tshogyal back to Tildro, and thence to Samye for giving him more teachings (KMT 2005; 75). It was on this return journey that several Tibetan ministers, who had been opposed to Guru, changed their attitude to him.
Soon after this event at Samye, Guru and his teeming 304 disciples gathered at Chimphu where he gave pith instructions on specific practices for carrying out at different named sites (KMT 2005; 78-82). The disciples included 21 rje ‘bang, 32 mchen bu, and seven rigs ldan ma. Distribution of sites and practices according to the distinct capacities of each person suggests almost tailor made life programme for his numerous disciples. The sadhanas Guru prescribed for different individuals ranged from sdrub chen bka’ brgyad, ma mshin phur pa, dgongs ‘dus, zhi khro, snying thig, man ngag, thugs bsgrub, etc. For Tshogyal, Guru specifically instructed her to practice mandala of guru and rtsa-rlung-thigle at places where there are Guru’s body prints, especially at Onphu Taktshang, Kham Takstshang and Paro Takstshang and Tildro (KMT 2005; 82). At face value, this suggests that Guru had prior familiarity with Paro Taktsang.
It was in response to Guru’s instruction that Tshogyal and her companions left for secret caves at Tildro, Singye Dzong and Paro Taktshang, in that order. At Tildro, Tshogyal and Archarya Saleh practiced rigorously leading them to various meditative successes and visionary experiences. Her meeting with Guru after these metaphysical experiences brought additional instructions for her to overcome the eight super adversities (bka’ chen brgyad).
Scheme of Practicing Eight Super Adversities
In a moving poem, Guru explained the eight super adversities to Tshogyal at Tildro (KMT 2005; 88- 90). Tshogyal visited Singye Dzong and Paro Taktshang to act on and overcome some of these adversities, after a few years of practice in Tildro.
Let me sketch what the eight adversities are. The first one is the adversity of food (zas kyi dka’ wa) by living sheerly on wind, and on essence of herbs and rocks. The second one is the adversity of cloth (gos kyi dka’ ba) by generating body heat through gtum mo exercise, while being clad first in a thin cotton, then being unornamented only human bones, and finally being naked. The third one is the adversity of speech (ngag gi dka’ wa) by maintaining a vow of silence except for mantra recitations. The fourth one is the adversity of body (lus kyi dka’ wa) by sitting in lotus position in meditative absorption and by performing prostrations and circumambulations. The fifth one is the adversity of mind (yid kyi dka’ wa) by training on inseparability of meditative concentration (zung ‘jug ting ‘zin), through generations and completion stages, with training on essence-drops of bliss and emptiness (bde stongs thig le sbyang). Just before she passes away, Tshogyal herself emphasised the strong point to Kalasiddhi that if bliss is not combined with voidness through mutual support between male and female, the Secret Mantrayana is rather meaningless (KMT 2005; 222). The sixth one is the adversity of doctrine (bstan pa’i dka’ wa) by explanation, debate and writing about Buddhism. The seventh one is the adversity of altruism (gzhan phan dka’ wa) by wishing well for others in the Mahayana way and by giving away, if necessary, life and body. The eight one is the adversity of compassion (rnying rje’ dka’ wa) by loving others more than oneself, and by equating ones children with ones enemies, and by equating gold with anything bulky (dgra dang bu mnyam gser dang bong wa mnyam). In an unequivocal note, Guru told her that Tshogyal would be indistinguishable from a nihilist (mu stegs rgyang ‘phan) if she did’t practice these adversities. By these high standards, almost all Bhutanese are nihilists.
Having promised Guru to practice all adversities, Tshogyal took them up one by one. The price of practice was high. Tshogyal admittedly came close to death three times in Tildro (KMT 2005; 91, 93, 114). It happened once in peak of snow clad Tildro peak during a year of practicing heat generation with only one cotton robe. She nearly died for the second time during one year practice of emaciated living on water and essence of rocks. The third risky incidence took place during another year of living on wind while naked with bone ornaments on. Her fourth near death experience occurred in Paro Taktshang while she was training on the inseparability of bliss and emptiness (bde stongs zung ‘jug thig le’ dka’ wa) while living on essence of herbs. We can make out the toughness of the regime from the fact that her fellow practitioners, Archarya Saleh, Archarya Pelyang and Mon boy Saleh, became mentally disturbed and physically ill at Paro Taktshang before they succeeded.
Paro Taktshang was one of the prescribed locations for Tshogyal’s spiritual maturation. Likewise, Guru chose Singye Dzong and Rolmoteng (Phugmochey) valleys because of their efficacious attributes for spiritual progress. These places have special powers, but for ordinary eyes too, they are wonderful natural landscape that ought to be protected from further construction and motor traffic so that the essence of the place, in terms of human beings coming to terms with and overcoming adversities, is preserved. My next article shall describe her experiences at Singye Dzong and Taktshang.
Where is Guru Rinpoche’s Bhutan? Part 4
Condensed from Dasho Karma Ura’s forthcoming booklet
PERSPECTIVES 18 July, 2010 - Multi-dimensionally Realistic Biography
Yeshey Tshogyal was 80 when Guru left Tibet. For 67 years, i.e., between 16 and 80 year old, she was in regular contact with Guru as his key disciple (KMT 2005; 217. All references are to KMT 2005). Her biography notes that she came to Bhutan again, to Khenpalung to be specific, for a year’s practice after Guru left Tibet. She lived for 106 years.
Her life span is converted from the 211 years mentioned in her biography, which was counted in a different way (pp. 239, 217). Ancient Tibet, like ancient India, counted six month as a year (see Tsele Natsok Rangdol 1993, The Lotus Born). Because of her longevity over a hundred years, Yeshey Tshogyal’s life spanned the reigns of Trisong Detsen, Muni Tsedpo (p.162), Mutri Tsedpo (p.195) and Tri Ralpachen (p.249).
Yeshey Tshogyal, who transcended ordinary dualistic existence, left behind a candid biography with a degree of realism that we often do not have in modern literature. Tshogyal’s rich and literary biography unfolds with a drama played at different levels that has, in my opinion, hardly any parallel. Tshogyal’s biography is a multi-dimensional account of court intrigues, subtle cultural clash, doctrinal conflicts, philosophical and pure visions, commitment to the bonds of inner tantra at physical and moral levels, physical and psychological sufferings, achievement of abnormal, but certainly possible, bodily abilities. It dwells mainly on teachings, though this is not the focus here.
She was inhumanly beautiful, often attracting unwanted attentions. Her father, who wanted to avoid matrimonial conflicts among four competing princely suitors, made her marry Emperor Trisong at the age of 13, making her his fourth queen. At 16, Trisong offered her to Guru as his consort. The offer of Tshogyal to Guru triggered an increasingly irreconcilable split between Buddhist ministers and outer Bon ministers in their attitude to Guru. Tshogyal was given her share of blame in the rising recrimination in the court. As for Guru, outer Bon Ministers called him Master of Black Mantra, the Wanderer Atsara (p.36). The pressure of the ministers on Trisong was so acute that he had to pretend to send Guru back to India and exile Tshogyal to Lhodrag. In reality, they lived in Tildro secretly, with the knowledge of Trisong. The split in the court resurfaced viscerally later during a ritual for Trisong at Samye where both Buddhist and outer Bon priests participated. The acrimony finally boiled over in the Samye debate between Bon and Buddhists, involving 25 learned Indian Pandits and 120 translators from Tibet from the Buddhist side. Tshogyal was pitched against Chokro Za Yungdung Bonmo Tsho, during the debate. Yungdung Bonmo later attempted to poison her.
Her super human achievements were a result of her super human commitment to prolonged practice. Life threatening hardships of practices of inner tantras are described without any pretensions. Accounts of prejudice of Tibetan ministers. The encounter with seven Tibetan bandits of Shambugang, who raped her, add realism to her biography. There was, however, a twist to the nature of their consummation It became purely a means for them to realize voidness and uncontaminated bliss (bde stong zag med logs na med) (pp.165-166). The ripening effect on the spot (smin sgrol dus gcig tu gyur) of the teachings turned the bandits into her disciples. On one occasion when she was on the verge of collapse in Tildro, she dreamt of drinking mentrual blood from a maroon naked girl (p.94). She woke up revived, with the strength of a lion. Screaming at her as a Tibetan beggar, Bhutanese (Mon) herdsmen assaulted her during her meditation, blaming her for catastrophic weather and epidemics in Mon. According to an oral tradition, people attacked her at a place called Dungzurphug (brdung rzob phug, literally the hill where she was beaten) near Tshonag Lake above Singye Dzong. It is a pilgrimage spot today. Mon herdsmen attempted to drive her out of her retreat-cave. Practitioners are not always revered. At another stage in her meditation in Singye Dzong, spirits in the guise of several handsome and fragrant youth molested her (p.104). As in the case of Buddha’s temptation by Mara, she was undisturbed, and her concentration power turned them into corpses, and into sick, lame and dumb people.
Years at Singye Dzong
By the time Tshogyal and her companions, including Acharya Saleh, came to the three dzongs at Singye Dzong, she had already practiced at many other places in Tibet. The three dzongs are Pwo Padma dzong to the right, Khandu Rinchen Dzong to the left, Darkar Singye Dzong at the centre, according to Ratna Lingpa’s biography.
She did a number of different things at Singye Dzong, described in detail over 17 pages (p.98-115). She began her stay with the practice of consumption of herbal essence, and essence of limestone rocks (chong zhi). Above Yeshey Tshogyal’s famous meditation cave, Khandu Sangphug, at Singye Dzong, there is a flat stone for grinding herbal mixture, and a stone mortar and pistle for pounding herbs. These stone implements are said to be the ones used by Tshogyal, and her friends Acharya Saleh and Dewamo. The mixture Tshogyal consumed was composed of 128 herbal medicinal plants attesting to the knowledge as well as the fecund supply of such herbs in Singye Dzong area (p.102). I should add that the valley of Menlungma at roughly a day’s distance from Singye Dzong, in the watershed of the equally famous Rolmoteng valley. Yak herdsmen recounted an oral tradition to me that Guru blessed Menlungma as a hidden valley of herbal medicine.
In what follows, I will give a glimpse of her esoteric practices at Singye Dzong in a chronological manner. Tshogyal launched into vow of silence, except for reciting mantras. Her inner cave (called Khandu Sangphug where she practiced) reverberated with mantras throughout nights and days. The inner cave, fortunately, is in an unembellished state today, as it might have been during her time, though outer cave and the approach has a small temple. The upper cave is small enough for one to hear the rythm of ones own breathing. Her first mantra session was on Varjasattva (yig brgya of rDorji semspa) before reciting mantras of confession and purification (bshags sbyang). Then she continued with dharani-mantras of various deities. She read prayers and confessions according to Sutra and Vinaya. Rather unexpectedly, she studied logic and memorized Abhidharma. These unrelenting activities led her to have a painfully dry larynx, and to vomit blood and pus from her throat, bringing her to the brink of death. At the end, her voice turned melodious, enriched with a repertoire of sixty notes (yan lag drug cu’i sgra dang ldan pa). The other notable transformation at that stage was that Tshogyal acquired the seven powers of an unforgettable memory (mi brjed pa’i gzung bdun). Her memory became photographic and capacious.
Then, Tshogyal practiced harder, staying in the mudra of concentration and posture of meditation, until signs of success appeared, in the form of blazing lights, and she witnessed deities. She attained the eight accomplishments of meditation. It seems to me that meditation sessions undertaken could not be a question of months, but of years, although her biography does not specify the duration she spent in Singye Dzong.
She then continued her meditation, focused on the mandala of Lama Gongdu (bla ma dgongs ‘dus, a cycle revealed later as terma by tertön Sangye Lingpa (1340-96)). In absolute concentration, she recited mantras, and practiced rtsa-rlung-thigle. Her resolve, despite illnesses of various kinds that nearly killed her, led her to gain power over the channels of nerve-breath-reproductive essence (rtsa-rlung-thigle gyi rang dbang). The chakras in her body were awakened, and the knots of her subtle energy, referring possibly to the knots of afflictive emotions, opened. Once again, she was able to behold an assembly of deities.
Finally, Tshogyal undertook another round of meditation in various secluded caves around Singye Dzong. Before retreating into solitude, Tashi Chidren met her. During that meditation, as I alluded above, spirits, jealous of her equanimity, tried to distract her through various phantasmal appearances. It was also during that stint that Mon herdsmen tried to attack Tshoygal as a black-magician creating bad weathers and an epidemic in Mon. From Singye dzong, she and her companions proceeded to Paro Taktshang, about which I will discuss in my next article.